Please find below notes of our midweek service of worship in our building in Panmurefield
Opening Scripture verses:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;Psalm 95:1-3
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
Opening praise: ‘Be Thou my vision’
Lord we come with Your joy in our hearts today for the privilege of worshipping and glorifying Your holy name. We are an incredibly privileged people with so many things for which to praise You our great God and Saviour. The apostle Paul in Romans 8:31-32 declared: What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Father, forgive us for those times when we doubted Your good ness to us or failed to display a thankful spirit for all our blessings. Help each one of us to honour and truly worship You each day of our lives as You desire, for Jesus’ names’ sake, Amen.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In His hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to Him.
5 The sea is His, for He made it,
and His hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
7 for He is our God
and we are the people of His pasture,
the flock under His care.
Today, if only you would hear His voice,
8 ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested Me;
they tried Me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;Psalm 95
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known My ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in My anger,
“They shall never enter My rest.”’
Intercessory prayer using Psalm 95
Heavenly Father, We come with confidence in Your holy presence today because we come in the precious name of Jesus, Your Son, our Saviour. When we look at the suffering in our world and the many crises around the globe with our confusion, it forces us to come back to the cross to see how much love You have for us as creatures created in Your image when You sent Jesus to die in our place so that we may have life in its fullness as Your children here on earth.
We do recognise that although our scientists and medical specialists are working so hard to care for patients who have been infected with the Covid-19 virus, or seeking to find a suitable vaccine to use to reduce its devastating impact on most people’s daily lives, we know that we must be patient for some time to come before we will be free once again to live in some form of our previous normal ways of living. We ask that You would help us as the human race to appreciate how we might live better on our planet as stewards of the natural resources entrusted to us, as well as share more appropriately the wealth so unfairly distributed into fewer and fewer people’s hands or held by a very small number of global corporations.
We come to use the words of Psalm 95 in our prayers today:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.
Father forgive us when our minds are so fixed on what is wrong in the world that we fail to honour and thank You for all the blessings and good things we enjoy. The wonderful blessing for most of us of close family and friends and church family; in particular today I want to thank You for …. being a blessing to me….
3 For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.4 In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. 5 The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.
Lord thank You for the beauty of creation around us. We are so blessed to live near the seashore where many of us at times can walk on the beach or paddle in the water, or simply listen to the sounds of the waves or the birds all around us. Thank you too for the mountains and hillsides and valleys inland, some places we can visit on foot or others to which we must travel to walk or in other ways to enjoy the scenery. In particular, there are special memories of places precious to me, I want to thank You for ….
6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before theLord our Maker; 7 for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.
Lord, we come individually as well as collectively to worship You today. In particular, I want to thank You for what I have learned as I read and study Your Word or as I seek You in prayer…..
Thank you Lord that there is nothing too big for You to handle, no situation too difficult or beyond hope. Today I want to bring before You …. with their particular need for prayer….
Lord we thank You that Betty Watson had her hip operation last week and we pray she makes a full recovery of health and strength. Lord, I am also aware of …. in need of prayer and I bring them before You now….
Today, if only you would hear His voice, 8 ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,9 where your ancestors tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did. 10 For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known My ways.” 11 So I declared on oath in My anger, “They shall never enter My rest.”’
Lord forgive me my sins, both those I know of and those of which I am even unaware. Lord, we bring before You the sins of our nation and its leaders. Where they have put personal or party interests before others, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable citizens; forgive the sins of our country in its foreign policy that has too often focussed on selling arms or other goods that make great profits here, but too often cause misery and disaster for vulnerable people in other places. We are distressed at the astonishingly long queues for even basic food items like bread in places like Syria caused entirely by Western sanctions and the deliberate destruction of their ability to produce sufficient food in their own land. Lord have mercy…
In particular, I want to bring …. (world issue) to You to work in resolving things we cannot change.
Thank you Lord for hearing and answering our prayers, in the name of Jesus, Your Son our Saviour, Amen.
Psalm 95 An invitation to worship
This psalm was written after the return from exile in Babylon (Iraq) by the small group of exiles that returned in different groups after the seventy years with no functioning nation in the land of Israel. However, now the situation has changed, homes have been built and occupied and businesses and lives re-established in the land. The Temple in Jerusalem has been restored and rebuilt so that it can be a place of worship once again.
The city too has seen its basic infrastructure rebuilt, including its walls, in the time of Nehemiah as governor. There is much to give thanks to God for in the nation. The generation that lived through times of despair and utter hopelessness, has largely passed away, but a tiny number remained to see the promises of God fulfilled before their eyes in Jerusalem.
The challenges we are facing today are nothing like as severe as the ones they passed through. However, in many countries around the world millions of people are enduring life-threatening difficulties on a scale that is distressing to see.
The starving people in Syria in lengthy queues for basic food supplies and missing out on all kinds of medical supplies in their National Health Service, due to the theft of some supplies by America and Turkey from the north of the country and more generally as a result of unjust sanctions against the Syrian government by certain Western nations including our own. The problems in Yemen and Nagorno-Karabakh, likewise, caused by military weaponry sold by a handful of countries including our own that makes large profits for the sellers at the expense of heartache and tragedy for many ordinary people. Lord have mercy upon us.
However, we are aware that alongside so many people in our city volunteering to help their neighbours and others in the wider community, there are still people struggling with the pressures of daily life, including as yet unaddressed health needs, or the pressures of work responsibilities. The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 virus pandemic will be with us for some time to come and it is taking its toll on the emotional and mental health of an increasing number of people.
Our politicians, scientists and health professionals are doing their best to help our country through this time, like their counterparts in other countries, but there is so much that they cannot control. Ultimately there is only one person to whom we can turn at a time like this and that is to the Lord as our unknown author directs us in Psalm 95. What does the Psalmist direct us to do in our worship service today?
1. The joy of worship (Psalm 95:1-2)
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song. ‘If only’ might be the cry of our heart when we are currently not permitted to sing out loud in public worship services! We will certainly appreciate it when the day comes when we can return to joyfully singing our loud God’s praises and being blessed by the contributions of our excellent musicians. It does raise the question for me; did I always appreciate enough what a privilege it was to come before the Lord with praise and worship with His people as we gathered Sunday by Sunday? How often do we take for granted the things we expect to be available for us week by week?
Since lockdown restrictions began back in March 2020 we have had to be creative utilising other resources. Many Christians have sung at home in their own homes using hymnbooks they possess. Others have utilised Christian radio or television services online or as we in this church do in services, taking links from earlier recordings of hymns or other songs being sung that we can then use in our services each Sunday on zoom, or via the church website or via the email version of the service.
But just mentioning these different ways in which we offer a Sunday service to people, and I had not mentioned the CDs or DVDs prepared for a smaller number of people, or the paper copies of services printed off for other people in their homes or residential care! God’s praises can still be offered and our thanksgiving expressed for the blessings we enjoy that are received from His hands. We are thankful that we can also gather in smaller numbers on church premises like today. We miss greatly our fellowship with one another that the pandemic restrictions have brought about, but through forms of technology such as phones or computers, or meeting people in public places the majority of us have had some contact with others over recent months.
Our author highlights some different ways to offer our worship to the Lord. In fact, it appears he is concerned that some of the recipients of this Psalm might not have been taking the opportunities to worship open to them as regularly as they might. Therefore, he issues a strong invitation to join with God’s people to honour and glorify His name. How should or might we offer our worship here?
The first exhortation is this: let us sing for joy to the Lord;(Psalm 95:1a) It is part of the human experience of life to want to sing. It is not just in churches that people like to gather to sing. In all kinds of concert halls or theatres, football grounds and in so many more places singing is a part of bringing pleasure to ourselves and to others in daily life. We might also want to add our homes or even our cars as places where we enjoy singing! However, the Psalmist here is specifically speaking about singing God’s praises. He is also exhorting us to do it with joy. That is, to do it with our hearts and emotions as well as our minds and our vocal chords!
We are called in the Bible to be a praising people who take delight in expressing our delight at the privilege of worshipping our great God and Saviour. In the book of Nehemiah there is an account of a worship service held in Jerusalem by a large group of Jewish people who had returned to the land of their ancestors to live when they were free to do so. They had been addressing seriously issues relating to living their lives for God and some of those present had clearly had a sense of failure to live up to God’s standards to the extent that they were weeping in the service.
However, Nehemiah the governor of the land and a real man of God said these words to them, recorded in Nehemiah 8:10: This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Had you ever thought that in praising and worshipping God, not only does He benefit from our adoration, but we are strengthened in our faith as a result of this activity?
The second exhortation is more surprising: let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1b) In most Western Christian Churches worship can be fairly solemn and respectful and that is viewed as the way all services ought to be conducted. However, in many African or African American Churches worshippers may shout out ‘Amens’ or equivalents during the sermon or in the times of praise. It is clear that there is evident biblical sanction for their more vocal expressions of worship and in heaven we may have to get used to some more lively worship than is customary in most churches here in Scotland! After all we have a gospel that is incredible good news that is worthy of being proclaimed to anyone who will listen to us! Praise the Lord!
The third exhortation is expected: Let us come before Him with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2a) This statement matches Paul’s teaching in I Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. It also complements the apostles’ advice regarding prayer to the church at Philippi in Greece, stated in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There is something of a pattern in the Bible of the blessing of God being attracted to His people when we are modelling a thankful spirit towards God and other people in daily life. It helps us flourish as people. It is a challenge, in my daily life how easily do I look for reasons to be thankful in various situations ahead of being critical of things that need to be addressed. God desires us to cultivate a thankful spirit towards Him for all the blessings He has given us.
The fourth exhortation is: and extol Him with music and song(Psalm 95:2). We are blessed with a good number of gifted musicians in our church family and we thank God for each one of them and the way their ministries have enriched our worship services, together with thankfulness to God for the team of people who have or continue to lead some of our worship services. Psalm 150, a latter Psalm, is a celebration of the many instruments we can use to glorify God in our praises. Our list of musical instruments today might differ from this list compiled more than two thousand years ago, but it is easy to grasp the point. The worship of Almighty God is meant to be enthusiastic as we raises our voices in praise and thanksgiving and that singing is enriched by the musical instruments that assist us in exalting His holy and majestic name.
2. The reasons for worship (Psalm 95:3-7a)
We could state that the first part of this Psalm is speaking about how ‘how’ we praise and worship God, something we can do on our own, in a small group or with a larger congregation of believers in a more structured worship service. The middle section of the Psalm answers the questions as to ‘why’ we should want to worship God. It is not something we consider when we have nothing else to do. On the contrary, it is the most important human activity on this planet. The older catechisms of Protestant Churches in unison declared that our ‘chief end’ or our most important activity on earth is: ‘to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever’. Now to the average citizen of our country such a thought would be foreign to their patterns of thinking or their daily lives, but not to the author of this psalm. He would have offered an ‘Amen’ or even a ‘hallelujah’ to such a claim. He gives us two reasons why this is the case.
(a)The greatness of God (Psalm 95:3-5) For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. 5 The sea is His, for He made it and His hands formed the dry land.
All of us are brought up to appreciate the kind actions of other people. As children the vast majority of us were taught to always say ‘thank-you’ to a person who gave us a gift or carried out an act of kindness for us. Appreciation for the good works of others is an essential part of the character of every human being.
However, there are times when some people assist others in ways that are worthy of particular praise. For example, a teacher or sports coach that has helped a young person develop their musical skills or sporting talents over many years and now sees them achieve their goals is worthy of praise and public acclamation.
An even greater sense of gratitude might be due to a person who donated a healthy kidney to someone whose kidneys had failed enabling them to continue to live. But, infinitely higher than that is our obligation to acknowledge the greatness of God.
The One who spoke and brought the universe into being out of nothing! The One who upholds and sustains it by His mighty power year by year; how great is our God! We rightly get excited by parts of the creation, for example, the views from a mountain-top, or the sight of the flowers in our garden, and so much more, but we are invited to lift up our eyes and worship the One who brought all this into being. The One who positioned the planet earth so perfectly in its orbit in our galaxy that life of all kinds could flourish is worthy of infinite praise and adoration for His greatness. How great is our God? Will you give the glory to Him for all He has created? It certainly didn’t happen by chance that is impossible!
Psalm 8 focusses exclusively on this topic and includes these verses: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. 2 Through the praise of children and infants You have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, 4 what is mankind that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them?.. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-4, 9)
It gets even more awesome in the New Testament when we read in John chapter one that the being who carried out that act of creation through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit entered our world as a baby at Bethlehem two thousand years ago in order to become the Saviour of the world. More than half a century after these events the aged disciple of Jesus, John, wrote in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. How great is our God! Have you put your trust in Him as your Lord and Saviour? I hope each one of us has done so.
God could have created the world and left us to look after ourselves, but amazingly the Bible teaches us clearly about the amazing love and care of God for us as His children.
(b) The care given by God (Psalm 95:6-7a)Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;7 for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.
There are many passages in the Old Testament that speak of God as the Shepherd of His people. Many people, even some non-churchgoers are familiar with Psalm 23. That Psalm begins: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing (Psalm 23:1).
Ezekiel chapter 34 is a lengthy chapter using the same imagery of God as the shepherd of His people. Christians will naturally turn in the New Testament chapter ten where Jesus describes Himself in this way in John 10:11, 14-16:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… 14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – 15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
We should naturally want to worship God because of His amazing love and care for us. His modelling of care in the person of Jesus is the pattern given to Christians in general and church-leaders in particular in I Peter 5:2:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;
Do I genuinely care for other people in our church family to pray for them regularly and in other practical ways when and where appropriate? To a lesser degree do we care enough to pray for and in a more limited way support Christian work in other places in our country and overseas? We need to reflect the loving caring God who has done and is doing so much for us.
3. The warning given by God (Psalm 95:7b-11)
The third section of such a beautiful psalm is such a real shock to read. It is like a musician playing beautifully at a concert and then striking some discordant notes that no-one could miss. Why does God through the psalmist need to give such a challenge in a psalm about worship and our invitation to honour the Lord as we ought to do? It is because of the repeated patterns in history of people in earlier generations drifting away from giving God the honour that is due to His holy name. This is why we notice here:
(a) A danger to be heeded (Psalm 95:7b-8a) Today, if only you would hear His voice, 8 ‘Do not harden your hearts… Don’t assume it is only a reminder to other believers to keep their focus on God. It is a constant challenge to my own heart and to yours to maintain our focus on praising and glorifying God, not just when all is going well but also in the midst of a Covid-19 virus pandemic or any number of other adverse circumstances. Do you need to address this issue today and need to ask God for forgiveness for not giving Him the first place in our lives as a Christian? Have other things crept in and you now have a greater joy in participating in lesser things? Nothing should be a greater priority in our lives than in giving Him the worship and adoration He deserves. If this is an issue for you, take the necessary time today to plan how to get your life back on track.
(b) A pattern to be avoided (Psalm 95:8b-10) 8 ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested Me they tried Me, though they had seen what I did. 10 For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known My ways.”
Our author illustrates his message with two examples from Israelite history from the generation that had seen so many extraordinary miracles from God as they were released from captivity in Egypt and forged a new future as a nation under God. The first reference is chronologically later than the second one, but we will reference them in that order following our author here. Meribah – the reference here is to Numbers chapter 20:1-13.
The Israelite community had got themselves into a dreadful state of constant complaining that life was hard and claiming that God was not looking after them properly. The particular cause for complaint on the day in question was the lack of a satisfactory water supply.
God told Moses that He would provide a miraculous intervention to ensure an adequate supply of water that duly happened. But it appears that very few of those present really expected it to happen, including the leaders of the nation Aaron and Moses. What we the consequences of this lack of belief? Numbers 20:12-13 states:
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in Me enough to honour Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’ 13 These were the waters of Meribah (quarrelling) where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where He was proved holy among them.
We will not truly worship God when we do not trust Him as we ought to provide for our needs in the present and the future. Time and again God is portrayed in the Bible (for example Genesis 22:14) as the One who provides what we need.
The second example was at Massah, a story recorded in Exodus 17:1-7. The events there had taken place many years earlier in the desert wanderings before the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua. As they did in the example above, the nation had become ungrateful to God and was habitually complaining about their lot; on the day in question the particular cause of complaint was the quality of the water supply. The incessant waves of constant complaints became all too much for Moses. But God intervened and utilised Moses as the means of transforming the situation.
The last verse of that account, Exodus 17:7 states: And he [Moses] called the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling] because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
These people had lost their trust in God to provide for their needs and also lost a thankful spirit for all the blessings they had received from God. Tragically they had lost their joy by taking their eyes off the Lord. This is why in whatever setting we must find time to prioritise the worship of Almighty God. What were the consequences in that setting?
(c) A punishment to be dreaded (Psalm 95:11)11 So I declared on oath in My anger, “They shall never enter My rest.”
For them it was the generation who missed out on entering the Promised Land. Their children would inherit this blessing. The challenge from the psalmist to each generation of people, including his own, was this: will I covenant to God to cultivate a thankful spirit for all my blessings and to focus on that more than my struggles and difficulties? Will I ensure I find the necessary time to prioritise the worship of Almighty God, both individually on my own and collectively with God’s people? No-one can do it for us, each of us must make our choice. May God help us to give Him the first place in our lives, for Jesus’ sake, Amen
Closing Song: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’
Thank you Lord for the blessing of gathering to worship and glorify You today. Please give us expectant hearts to desire to worship You more fully in the coming days and to cultivate a heart overflowing with gratitude to You and to other people for the blessings You have given to us, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.